Walking Tour and Reception: The Art of Virgil Cantini (1919-2009)

August 26, 2017, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 

*Photographs following text: Brittany Reilly & Penhollows 

Italian-born, Pittsburgh-based artist and educator Virgil Cantini maintained a prolific studio practice, with a significant amount of his artistic production prompted by special commissions and large-scale public works in various mediums, many of which we have the opportunity to experience first-hand. A range of universities, architectural firms, churches, landscape designers, city facilities and private collectors were eager to engage the artist in projects, allowing Cantini to respond to specific contexts in his own distinct way. Working in enamel, metal, glass, wood, fiber and more, Cantini was instrumental in establishing the Department of Studio Arts at the University of Pittsburgh where he served on the faculty for nearly 40 years. Many of his pieces can be found throughout campus.


On Saturday August 26th, Design Nation hosted an afternoon walking tour of fifteen of Virgil Cantini's works in the public realm, throughout the architecture of the University of Pittsburgh and Downtown Pittsburgh. Stops included Aerial Scape (a 1971 porcelain enamel mural originally commissioned for One Oliver Plaza lobby), and his mosaic panels installed in a pedestrian tunnel (currently threatened with the development of a new park on site). Our special guest, Lisa Cantini-Seguin, daughter of the artist, shared remarks and insight at our starting point of Hillman Library, where several of Cantini's pieces can be found on the ground floor. 


Following the tour, a special reception in partnership with Penhollows and hosted at 5700 Bunkerhill Street (1963, Architect, Tasso Kateslas) included an exhibit of works from the artist's estate and a screening of Virgil Cantini: The Artist in Public, with filmmaker Will Zavala. Guests included the artist's family, preservationists, artists, writers, designers and historians, enjoying conversation over cocktails and archival images and materials. 


Widely exhibited and collected throughout his prolific career, Time Magazine named Cantini one of the hundred “Leaders of Tomorrow” in 1953, he was named ‘Artist of the Year’ by the Pittsburgh Arts and Crafts Center (now Center for the Arts) in 1956 and in 1957 received the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship for study abroad. Cantini passed away in 2009 in Pittsburgh, at the age of 90. His work left an indelible mark on the city he made his own.